The Soul Captain Chronicles
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The Master of our Destiny,
Captain of our Soul —
With eyes upon the map
Hands on the control —
Will not cut us any slack
Unless that's what
We've come here for.
When the mist cleared the Captain and I were standing on a small airstrip — merely a swath cut through thick vegetation and a small one-room building on the side of the strip. No airplanes were in sight. I looked around trying to figure out where we were and all I could see was low vegetation and no signs of any hills or power lines or civilization for that matter. Gradually I heard the drone of a propeller plane which was on a direct approach to the landing strip. It looked as if it could hold about eight passengers and the pilot, a twin-prop commuter plane. We watched it land and out of the plane walked Bob and a long-haired blonde. They were dressed rather casually, obviously arriving here on vacation, but where in the world was this place. As the plane taxied up the small building, a uniformed black man came out to greet the passengers and fetch their luggage for them. From the size of the two suitcases, Bob and his friend were going to be staying for at least a week or more. We walked along with them, unseen, and listened in.
"How do we get to Marsh Harbor? What do Ken's instructions say?" Bob asked his lady friend.
"Let's see. It just says, 'Take a taxi to the marina.'"
"Hmm, must be only one marina on the island. What's the name of the sailboat again?"
"I'll read you the description: 'Fifty-one foot Morgan sailboat named 'Outrageous'. About the fifth slip on the right, first one past the small houseboat. King-size bed, washer, dryer, full kitchen, two boys, and a dog.' The two kids will be Doug and Steven, the dog is Sadie."
"How old are the boys?"
"I think Doug is about 12 and Steven is 15. I think their sister went with Ken and Sally to stay at with Sally's mother on the mainland."
They climbed in a taxi and headed down this dirt road on the left side of the road. The taxi driver was black and spoke with a slight British accent.
"Look, Del," Bob said, "they drive on the left side of the road here."
"Yes, and I wonder if we are we going to have to get some Bahamas money or can we use dollars?"
"Ken said the exchange rate is so close and the money denominations are the same as US, so we can just use the $300 cash he gave us for the week's groceries and expenses."
"Yeah, and the boat we're babysitting don't eat much, huh?" The two of them chuckled and took in the sights as their taxi dodged chuckholes in the dirt road, oncoming traffic, and dusty pedestrians.
Soon they pulled up to a large marina on the left side of the road with the sign Marsh Harbor on a small building which housed the marina office with a restaurant behind it. The taxi driver helped them lug their bags to the Outrageous which was only about a hundred feet or so from the road. Sailboats from 21 feet to 51 feet long lined both sides of the wooded walkway. They passed the small houseboat on the right. Looked like one room stuck on a small wooden barge with a small outboard runabout tied to the backside. Two boys came down the ramp of the sailboat to meet them.
"Doug! Steven!" Del called and they ran up to give her a hug. "This is Bobby, I think you remember him from our wedding at your house a few years ago." They shook hands and Doug's attention went back to Del.
"Del-Bell, how are Jim and John and Stoney? Where are they staying while you're babysitting us?"
"They're fine. They're staying with their Dad and Kim's staying with a friend. She's a senior at Riverdale this year, you know."
We watched as the boys showed Del and Bobby around the ship, explaining how the power system worked, where the master bedroom was, the microwave oven, the kitchen, etc. The bedroom was roomy with a king-size bed which took up most of the room. The overhead space from the bed looked to be restricted, and like you could knock your head on the ceiling if you woke with a start and sat up quickly.
After unpacking, Del and Bobby went up to the top deck on the ship and looked around. Sadie, an orange-brown Border Collie, came up and they petted her.
"I'm hungry," Bobby said, "do you think we could grab a bite at the restaurant?"
"Sure," Del said, "Steve, did you guys eat already?"
"Yeah," Steve called back from the other end of the boat where he and Doug were playing.
"Bobby and I are going to get something to eat at the restaurant and then we're going to find a grocery store and get some food. Make a list for us of what you would like us to get for you, will you?"
It was a short walk up down the walkway to the restaurant. It was a plain open area, glass on three sides from middle wall to the ceiling overlooking the harbor. Simple square tables filled the dining area and a bar lined the one un-glassed wall. A two-way radio was turned on and seemed to be the only radio station and the only mode of modern communication available. We heard police reports, weather reports, and bits of news items about the Abacos. Apparently we were on one of the Abaco islands of the Bahamas.
"Let's take a look at the menu," Bobby said. They read silently and then their eyes met at the same time. Del spoke first.
"Looks like we can have conch-anything, huh?"
"Yep," Bobby said, "Conch burgers, fried conch, conch fritters, etc, and I don't even know what a conch is, do you?"
"I think it must be the animal that lives inside the conch shells that we see lining the sides of the harbor."
"Ho boy," I guess it's conch burgers all around, eh? Luckily I'm hungry enough to eat anything."
The conch burgers came out looking a bit like a country-fried steak on a hamburger bun and Bobby and Del ate them with relish.
"Mmm, good, huh?" Bobby said between bites.
"A little chewy, but tasty," Del replied. "Guess we'd better get used to conch everything — it seems to be the only local food here in Marsh Harbor."
After lunch they walked back to the boat and got instructions from Steven on how to get to the grocery store. "It's about a fifteen minutes walk to the supermarket. They take US money and Bahamas money — whatever you have."
Del and Bobby set out to the store with a list of things the boys liked to eat. They walked along the dusty road, which, lucky for them, did not have a lot of traffic. The sky was perfectly clear and the sun was warm overhead, but the air was fairly cool. It's a little hard to determine the season of the year from the vegetation in a tropical area, but the Captain and I had spied a day calendar in the restaurant which was open to Saturday March 28, 1981. The Captain and I followed along behind Del and Bobby and I took this chance to ask the Captain a few questions. We were like shadows and neither of them could hear us talk or sense our presence, so far as we knew.
"Another decade, another wife!" I told the Captain with a tone of incredulity.
"Yes, that seems to be the case," he replied, in his usual noncommital fashion.
"And four kids I never heard of before! If Bob, er, Bobby — I notice he's gone back to using his childhood name — had four from Judy, then that makes 8 kids together for him and Del, if they didn't have any. I suppose his kids are still living with Judy since the boys didn't mention them."
"Okay, okay, I'll shut up and watch and listen," I said, a little disgruntled at the lack of information or even conversation from the Captain.
The supermarket looked like the first A&P supermarkets in the 1950s, small size, easy to get around in, and with only a couple of checkout counters. Bobby and Del had about two bags of groceries each, and we watched as they checked out. The total was $36.35 and Bobby gave the checkout lady two US twenty dollar bills. She placed them in her cash register and gave him his $3.65 change in the form of two bills and a coin.
"Wow, look, Del, a three dollar bill! Remember that old saying about something been as queer as a three dollar bill? Now we've seen one! And a fifty cent bill! And a fifteen cents coin!" Bobby was talking about Bahamas money as they walked away from the cash register. "I was watching the two people in front of us check out. They got pennies, nickels, and quarter that look like US size and shaped coins. They also have ones, fives, tens, and twenties. But in addition they have twos and threes in bills, and this curious square-shaped fifteen cents coin. Did you see any dimes? I didn't."
"Yes, I noticed someone putting a nickel-sized coin with a wavery edge into a cigarette machine as we came in. Maybe that's their ten cents piece."
"Well, so many things are the same as the States, but there sure are some things that are very different. Colored paper money with the Queen of England on it and three dollar bills!"
When they reached the Outrageous, the boys greeted them and helped carry the heavy paper bags into the kitchen.
"We're all invited to a party this evening over on the other Morgan sailboat. It's our good friends. I think they will be going sailing on Monday" Steven said. "Would you like to go along?"
"You bet!" Bobby said, looking over to Del. "I didn't think we'd get to go sailing on this trip. Even if Ken said we could sail it, I know I couldn't handle this big a ship with my meager sailing experience."At dusk, after the sun had set over the ocean inlet into Marsh Harbor, Bobby and Del followed the two boys and their dog over to their friends' boat. We watched from a distance as they made plans to sailing the next day. One interesting couple they met during the party was introduced to them as Dick and Jane.
"Yes," Dick said, in answer to Bobby's question if they lived in the marina, too, "we live in the small houseboat next to your place."
"It doesn't look like it's been out on the water lately," Bobby commented.
"Oh, no," Jane chimed in, "it doesn't even have a working motor anymore — we just live in it."
"But we do get out on the water on our runabout. Care to do a little sight-seeing with us tomorrow? We'll take you over to Hopetown where the lighthouse is," Dick said.
Del seemed a little unsure, but Bobby answered for both of them, "Sure thing, we'd love to go."
"Isn't that boat a little small to travel over the ocean?" Del asked.
"Oh, don't worry about that — the water is seldom over fifty feet deep around here. The Bahamas are like a mountain range rising out of the deep ocean bed with a large plateau fifty feet underwater and occasional peaks that break through the surface of the sea. The island we're on now is one of the mountain peaks. Hopetown is the last island-peak and sits on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. You can climb to the top of the ridge and see where the water turns a deep blue off shore about half a mile. That's where the mountainside drops to about 9,000 feet to ocean bottom."
"Oh, okay," Del said, noting that Bobby was champing at the bit to see this Hopetown. If there was something magical about names, this place had that quality for Bobby — she seemed to see it in his eyes.
Jane, noting Del's reluctance, said, "Look, Del, all the tourist shops will be open tomorrow for the weekend crowd — you and I can do shopping. Hopetown's really a quaint old village, and the lighthouse is a must place to see."
As the scene began to fade and the voices turn to murmurs for me, I wanted to see this Hopetown, too. "Captain, can we stay around in 1981 long enough to see Hopetown tomorrow and then go out on the big sailboat with them the next day?"
"Yes, we can," the Captain said, "and slowly we began our misty segue into the next morning.
As the mist cleared we were standing on the walkway of the dock and Del and Bobby were saying goodbye to Doug and Steven who were going to stay on their friends' boat while they went on a boat trip with Dick and Jane.
"Okay," Bobby said as their attention moved to the houseboat down the walkway. "Are you ready for some 'Fun with Dick and Jane'?"
Del smiled as if that name meant something special to him and her, but I had no clue as what it meant and the Soul Captain just shook his head slightly as I looked towards him for clarification. It was his look which meant "All things come to him who waits." How long I would have to wait, I didn't have a clue. What I wouldn't have given for an omniscient narrator who was explaining what things meant as they happened to me, but even though the Soul Captain could play that part, he showed very little inclination to do so.
Bobby and Del hopped on the houseboat and Dick opened the door. "Morning, Mate! Care for a little grub? Jane's got some grits and scrambled eggs cooking on the stove."
"Sure," Bobby said, "I never pass up grits and eggs."
Del walked over to the stove part of the kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom of the tiny houseboat and Bobby sat down in the booth across from Dick. "So what's the weather look like today for our trip?"
"Good, no rain, a little clouds, and a light chop. Should be a great day," Dick said.
They were soon all four settled in the boat. Del and Jane in the front seat and Bobby in the back seat across from Dick who had his left arm on the outboard motor's steering arm and they were off. It certainly was a beautiful day for a boat ride. Air was just a little nippy, and the sea had just enough waves to keep Dick's hand at attention on the tiller. Every now and then a bit of spray cut across the girls's faces as the boat's keel split a larger wave.
After about twenty minutes in open water, Dick slowed the motor down as they entered an inlet. "It's Jack's Key," he said, with an air that let you know this entire tiny island belonged to someone named Jack. "Over here is where we come snorkling when the weather's a bit warmer," Dick said, pointing to the water over the right side of the boat. He pulled up to a small dock and they went up to a structure that looked a bit like an open bar set up on a Jamaican beach — all the doors were open and you could see through the bar from one side to another. They sat down at the bar and Dick called out, "Jack! Where are you?" and then turned to Bobby and explained, "This is Jack's bar — we always like to stop here on the way to Hopetown."
Soon Jack appeared and the four enjoyed a drink together as Dick caught up on small talk with his friend Jack. When that petered out, Jack looked over to Bobby and said, "Did Dick tell you how Hopetown got its name?"
"No, he didn't. How?"
"Well, the island that Hopetown is on is at the very northeastern range of the Bahamas. During the colonial days, on up into the 19th century, ships coming to the New World would often run aground on that island. The water goes from about 10,000 feet deep to solid land in only a half mile. At night a ship would have no warning of approaching land and would crash and all of its cargo would spill on the shore. Over time, people learned about this booty that could be had for the taking and a small settlement grew up on the other side of the hill from the beach. These people lived off the ships that they salvaged when they crashed. And that's where the name came from."
"What do you mean, Jack? Where exactly did the name come from?" Bobby asked.
"They lived from day to day in the HOPE that another ship would crash on the beach!" Jack said.
"Yeah, Mate, they were waiting for their ship to come in," Dick said wryly.
"Yeah," said Jane, "and they were really pissed off when the authorities decided to put up a lighthouse! It got rid of their livelihood, if it can be called that."
Jack, Dick, and Jane were chuckling, but Bobby and Del just looked at each other. Obviously they wanted to see this unusual town.
Another half hour boat ride and Hopetown came into view. As Dick entered the large inlet and cut the motor back, Bobby said, "Del, I'll bet this place doesn't have an electric generator that you can hear running during the night like Marsh Harbor!" There on the top of a ridge was the lighthouse. A large white, traditional round lighthouse with a glass enclosed area at the top for the beacon light. Below the lighthouse, scattered on the hillside were houses more resembling a real town than anything we had seen in Marsh Harbor. This was a relatively large town, with paved streets, residents, gift shops and restaurants, as we could see as Dick maneuvered the boat into a slip.
They walked through the town in the direction of the lighthouse. The path was steep at times, so they stopped to look in shops as a way of getting some rest. Bobby and Del found a watercolor of a flower that they liked in one shop and bought it as a souvenir of Hopetown. The piece was titled "Hibiscus" and signed by the artist, "Jenny Dunn, Bahamas," so they knew it was a local artist. Dick and Jane said they had been up the lighthouse many times, so they set a time to meet back at the boat slip and parted company with Bobby and Del.
By the time they reached the base of the lighthouse, they looked rather tired. "I don't think I want to climb up to the top of the lighthouse," Del said. "What about you?"
"No, let's walk to the top of the ridge — we should be able to see the Atlantic Ocean and the famous beach from there." The two continued on the sidewalk up the hill past quaint shops and homes, colorfully painted with gingerbread decorations, picket fences, and rose gardens. When they reached the top, we looked out with them and saw a beautiful white beach a couple of hundred feet below, and the water from the beach edge on out looked just like the water of the inlet to their backs, but at about half a mile from the beach, the water color suddenly turned a deep blue.
"Look at that!" Bobby exclaimed, "I don't think I've ever seen a blue that deep before — that must be where the edge of the Bahamas mountain range. I'll bet that deep blue water marks where the water depth drops to 10,000 feet."
"Well, it was worth the climb up here to see that. I don't think I want to walk down to the beach and then back up again. Do you?"
"No way — let's start down to the boat slip. We still have time to grab a bite to eat along the way. This has been quite an experience. Hopetown. I'll always remember this place."
"Me, too," Del said as they began walking downhill in the direction of the harbor.
We followed the four in the runabout back to Marsh Harbor and as Bobby and Del said goodbye and thanks to Dick and Jane, I looked at the Soul Captain and said, "How about we call it a day, too? Tomorrow's Monday and I'm looking forward to going sailing with them in the big Morgan sailboat." The Captain nodded and the mist filled the air.
In what seemed like no time at all the mist faded and Bobby and Del were climbing down the gangway with the boys. They turned left in front of us and we followed them to a large sailboat, another Morgan, but a few feet larger than the Outrageous. This one was called the Courageous. Bobby and Del said hello to the friends from the Saturday night cocktail party on the deck of this same ship, and soon, the lines were being loosed from the dock and the large boat was motoring out of Marsh Harbor's inlet into the open waters. As soon as they cleared the inlet the sea breeze caught the mainsail and the sailboat tilted to starboard — we were off! I was enjoying the sail as much as Bobby was, maybe more, because I had none of his sailing memories whatsoever. This was all new to me. The sea spray, the taut sails, everyone on deck ducking as we tacked and the swinging arm of the sails swung across the deck. It was a perfect day for sailing and all too soon we were heading back into the harbor. I could see how someone could get so intoxicated by sailing a large ship like this that one would move on a sailing ship, as apparently Ken had done.
As we tied up the ship, we noticed a bit of a stir at the marina office and walked over to see what was going on. Folks were gathered around the two-way radio. "What's up?" Bobby asked.
A burly guy with a handlebar moustache said, "There's been a robbery over in Nassau, and apparently the robbers have landed on the other end of the island. The sheriff is trying to find them."
"How far away is the other end of the island?" Bobby asked.
"Oh, don't worry, this is a long, skinny island. They'll be caught before they get anywhere close this end of the island."
"Thanks!" Bobby said, and started to walk off.
"Wait, aren't you two the couple who just came from the States?" he asked, and evinced a slight British accent in his voice as he spoke.
"Yes, that's us."
"Well, you ought to know that we heard that President Reagan has been shot by some bugger today. Don't have much details, but they've taken him to the hospital."
Bobby pulled Del aside and said, "Let's get back to the boat. We're not that far from Miami. We should be able to pick up some clear channel radio station after dark and find out what happened."
"You told me about that twenty year curse a few years ago — how does it go?" Del asked as they walked briskly along the walkway to the Outrageous.
"Going back to Lincoln, every president elected in a year divisible by twenty has died while in office. Kennedy was the last one and he got assassinated. Before that FDR who was elected in 1940. It looks like Reagan is destined to end his presidency prematurely." Bobby looked glum as they walked along silently to the boat. They said goodnight to the boys and got in bed. Bobby was working on a small AM-FM radio trying to pull in a Miami station. Every few minutes, he'd get a bit of a news bulletin that was understandable for a sentence or two before the static overwhelmed it or it faded to nothingness as the stratospheric layer bounced the signal to some other part of the Atlantic Ocean and away from Marsh Harbor. The pieces of sentences left out more than they told at first, ". . . that President Reagan has a bullet hole in his lung and is expected to . . ." and ". . . apparently obsessed with Jodie Foster after her appearance in the movie. . . ." and ". . . is in serious condition and may be paralyzed . . .". But soon it became clear that the assassin's bullet that was supposed to explode inside its target, did not — the president had a clean wound and would recover completely.
It was late into the night when the pieces of the puzzle of what happened finally fit into place and Bobby turned on his side to kiss Del, who was sleeping soundly, having already fallen to sleep hours before. As he kissed her and turned out the light, a mist began to appear in the master bedroom of the good ship Outrageous and the Captain and I slipped away.
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